Cuisine, stat! Park City hospital chef brings wellness to table

Published: Tuesday, May 25 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jason Kieffer, executive chef and wellness coach, prepares his ginger chicken for a patient at Park City Medical Center.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Leave it to this celebrity-catering resort town to turn the concept of healthy eating on its head. Summit County's newest dining sensation is hospital food.

No, seriously.

The Park City Medical Center, tucked unobtrusively off Highway 40 near the Jordanelle Reservoir, has become health-food central for many area residents. Satisfied palates and word of mouth have spread the tale of executive chef and wellness coach Jason Kieffer's constantly changing menu at the hospital's Silver King Café.

Since its opening in September, the hospital's patients and area residents have been the first to experience Intermountain Healthcare's latest incarnation of how to expand the concept of wellness beyond medical care and physical therapy.

As former executive chef for the management team led by Bill Gates at Microsoft, Kieffer's contribution to health and wellness comes through his finesse in the kitchen, which is stocked with low-fat, gluten-free, calorie-conscious ingredients that are hand-picked for their quality and freshness.

Because hospitals usually cater to large numbers of inpatients, "most hospital food is prepackaged, in cans or bags, which means food costs are often higher, but food preparation costs are lower. It's easy to simply microwave the lasagna or boil the canned beans before sending them to a patient's room," Kieffer said.

Knowing their comparatively small clientele would expect something more sophisticated, hospital officials in Park City took a different philosophy, determined to put more emphasis on preparing healthy food from scratch, using more fresh ingredients and offering "made-to-order meals" rather than cafeteria-style mass production.

In fact, patients not only get freshly made-to-order meals available on the daily menu, they can speak with Kieffer himself about specialty requests, which he is willing to prepare if the ingredients are readily available.

And every patient has room service, which means the meals can be requested by phone and delivered to their room in 20 to 30 minutes, he said. "Some patients want particular kinds of food depending on the medical procedure or problem they're here for," he said.

Hospital spokeswoman Amy Roberts noted that mothers in labor often have specific likes and dislikes as they're preparing to give birth.

Kieffer's job is to make them all happy.

He also partners with dietitian Lizabeth Bynan to offer a series of classes that appeal to area residents who are looking to eat and live healthier. They offer instruction in innovative cooking techniques, tailored nutrition and wellness coaching that can include yoga and workouts in the hospital's physical therapy clinic.

Earlier this week, Kieffer led a one-time session for several area residents in the Silver King Café. "Natural Pathways to Food Digestion" included instruction on food pairing, high-fat food absorption, cooked vs. raw foods and intuitive eating. He provided a variety of natural foods on hand for sampling, including quinoa and sauerkraut he made with natural fermentation.

Following his presentation, Kieffer's local fresh-fish supplier who happens to be a yogi was on hand to teach participants several yoga poses that help foster healthy digestion. Mats spread on the floor of the enclosed dining area, the women stretched to the sound of soft music.

The café itself has become so popular, some 300 diners came for lunch on a recent Friday to take advantage of entrees that range from $5 to $6.50. The U.S. Ski Team and the National Ability Center are both headquartered nearby, and provide many of the café's frequent patrons, Roberts said.

Odd as it may sound, the hospital has also become an increasingly popular venue for business meetings and lunches, according to guest services manager Stephanie Zrelak, who recruited Kieffer for the hospital after working with him at the Suncadia resort in Washington.

Roberts said one of the hospital's board members is a native of France who now lives in Park City. During a recent visit to Paris, the official was sitting in a restaurant talking with someone about living in Park City, "when someone at another table overheard him and asked if he'd ever tried the food at the new hospital."

Kieffer relishes the story almost as much as he seems to enjoy discussing various food combinations and ingredients. Having studied as a traditional naturopath, the 38-year-old chef is looking to help people "become whole through a spiritual, physical and mental collaboration. They all go together, and if one is not there, the other two are out of sync."

e-mail: carrie@desnews.com

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